About a month before our wedding anniversary this year, I ordered a gift for Ben. When I saw it, I knew it would be perfect since both of us are such geeks. I thought I’d allowed plenty of time for it to arrive—but I hadn’t anticipated it sitting at customs in Los Angeles for nearly three weeks. As it turned out, it did arrive on the day of the anniversary, but it was still no good. It needed to be properly framed and there was no way Ben was going to see it until it had been.
I finally got it back from the framer’s last night. And as I’d expected, Ben loved it!
But I’m not so thrilled. This star map is backwards from what you’d expect. It’s not what you’d see looking up, but rather what you’d see if you looked down onto the earth from a vantage point on the outside of some celestial sphere (or like on a globe) upon which the stars had been fixed. It’s very disappointing.
As is my tradition every December 1st, I remember…
He would’ve been 55 today. And it’s doubly sad to realize that he’s now been gone for more years than he’d been alive when we first met.
It was the night of the summer solstice, and typically warm for Tucson. I’d just come out of a disastrous three week affair with stunningly beautiful mortician’s assistant, newly arrived in Arizona from the wilds of upstate Michigan. The man was gorgeous and the sex was great; unfortunately he was completely and utterly unavailable. This was turning into an all-too-common scenario that had played out again and again in the year or so that had passed since I’d begun exploring life and love after having moved out of my parents’ house and into a place of my own.
In fact, I was becoming so disheartened by these turn of events that I started questioning whether this “lifestyle” was all it was cracked up to be. Did straights have it any easier?
Angry and depressed—and against my better judgment—I went out that evening. I was young and horny and figured what better way to get over a broken heart than to try and score a little skin-on-skin action with someone new? (Hey, I was 23. Cut me some slack!)
At the time there were less than a handful of gay bars in Tucson, and of those, there was only one real dance club: The Joshua Tree. JT’s as it was known, had been around in one incarnation or another for years and never failed to draw a nice crowd from the university. Just what the doctor ordered.
Not unexpectedly, the evening had not gone well. It was one of those nights where everyone sensed the thundercloud hanging over my head and steered clear of me completely. After about an hour of being summarily ignored, I decided to give up, drive down to the Bum Steer (a straight pickup bar a few blocks from campus) and see how the other team played. I mean, no harm in a little “experimentation,” right?
As I was getting ready to leave, I remember telling the Universe, “If you want me to keep on being gay (like I had any choice in the matter), you’d better send a sign—and quick—because I’m walking out of this bar—and away from everything it represents—and I may never come back.”
As I was pushing my way through the crowd streaming in through the narrow entrance hallway, I locked eyes with this cute strawberry blond boy coming in. He looked at me and smiled. Even as the crowd behind jostled me out the door, time stood still for the brief instant our eyes met.
Once outside, I thought about what had happened and I immediately turned around and went back in.
A few minutes later I found him sitting out on the back patio sipping a beer. There was only one place to stand where I could get a clear view to safely flirt from a distance (because there was no way I could just go up to him and say hello) and I grabbed it straightaway.
It didn’t take him long to spot me standing there. We kept making eye contact, and I was trying very hard to look cool while swatting away the insects swarming around the neon sign that was unfortunately located right over my head.
After several minutes, with a big smile on his face, he nodded for me to come over.
Conversation was easy, and it took very little time for us to decide to go back to my place and get to know each other better. During all this I remember thinking, “Oh LORD…what am I getting myself into this time?”
Little did I know.
Sex wasn’t great that first time, but there was something that drew us back together the very next night. And the night after that. And the night after that. And it was then that something happened. As we lay there, looking into each other’s eyes we simultaneously blurted out, “Something special is happening here, isn’t it?”
Yes there was. And apparently those simple words were all that were needed to help him come to a decision about something he’d been struggling with; he returned home the next morning and came out to his mom.
It was not well received. I believe her exact words were, “You can either not be gay, or you can get the hell out.”
All of a sudden, and quite unexpectedly I had a housemateboyfriend lover.
It was a first time relationship for both of us, and given the option, I don’t think either one of us would’ve chosen this particular way for it to begin. But as they say, you deal with the hand that fate has given you. Unfortunately, I didn’t exactly do all I could to encourage and nurture it, either. Being fiercely independent, after two weeks I was climbing the walls having this other presence invading my personal sphere. Sensing my discomfort (no doubt because I’d gotten absolutely surly), after long, drawn-out negotiations, he came to a working truce with his mother and moved back in with her.
But after only one night alone, neither one of us could bear the solitude, and that “something special” we noted would not be ignored. He started spending nights with me again.
This was in direct violation of the agreement with his mother, and a week later, finally accepting the sweet inevitability of what was happening between us, I opened my heart and home to him fully, and he moved back in.
Six months passed and we moved into a new apartment—one that was ours—but now neither one of us was happy. Once again he made peace with his mom and returned to his childhood home, leaving behind most everything he owned “to pick up later.” (I think he must’ve known it wasn’t going to last this time either.)
He was right. While we didn’t see each other for the next week, we were on the phone every night until finally his mother picked up one of the extensions while we were talking and said, “It’s obvious you boys love each other. Get back together and work things out, will ya?”
We did. And while as lovers we didn’t last more than a couple years beyond that fateful conversation, our friendship deepened and endured for another decade until AIDS snatched him away forever.
I have been blogging for close to two years now. What I’ve noticed during that time is while I’ve made new friends through the endeavor, several of my long-time fellow travelers in life’s journey have drifted away. One of whom in particular—a guy I’ve known nearly a quarter century—has all but vanished, and I’m starting to wonder if it’s because of something I’ve written along the way. Blogging’s semi-anonymity has allowed me to voice thoughts that even my closest confidants may not have known I was mulling.
This raises a fundamental question. Isn’t it better to have people love you for who you really are, other than for who they think you are?
While not nearly as political as I am, I know my buddy has no love for George Bush, so I doubt that’s the source of his withdrawl. The only other thing that may have caused this apparent chilling of our friendship are the writings about my increasing agnosticism. He’s not a religious guy, but a very spiritually oriented one; something that initially drew us together and that we’d shared these many years. I still respect his New Age beliefs, but at this point in my life I’m just finding it impossible to ascribe to a philosophy that’s become as rigid and entrenched as any other faith-based doctrine and offers no more proof of its validity than the fairy tales of traditional organized religion.
Before I started blogging, we’d chat or email each other several times a week, and I always felt welcome visiting. But over the last year or so (along with my posts examining my crumbling faith in New Age thought), all my emails seem to vanish into a black hole, never to be answered. (His excuse is that he gets so much spam he doesn’t even bother opening his email, despite my attempts to show him how to filter it out at his ISP before it ever reaches Outlook). So I’ve just given up emailing him altogether. At some point you just reach the point where you think, “Why bother?”
I no longer feel like I can just call and come down for the weekend like I’d been doing for years. It seems he always has houseguests, or previous plans, or the planets aren’t in proper alignment. The last time I was in the neighborhood, the ex and I just dropped in on him (we did call first), and neither of us exactly got the warm fuzzies while we were there. And don’t get me started on him coming here. It’s been over a year and a half since he’s been up to Phoenix. His excuse is that his back bothers him. It’s not like going to San Francisco, for Chrissake.
So I’m kind of at a loss. I have a feeling he’s dealing with some demons of his own, but he hasn’t shared any of it with me, and when I’ve asked if everything was okay he said it was. I’m not losing sleep over it, but it concerns me that a friendship I thought I would take to the grave with me may be coming to an end after having survived and flourished nearly twenty-five years.
Amazingly, nothing has changed with this particular friend since I wrote this eight years ago. During the years Ben and I were in Denver, my friend and I spoke once on the phone—and I was the one who initiated the call.
Still, I’ve kept him up to date via a change of address card regarding our return to Phoenix, and have thought many times about calling him, but as I wrote initially, I’m really starting to wonder, “Why bother?”
As I do every year on December 1st I take a moment to remember the men who have touched my life and sadly are no longer with us…
A lot of people have asked why, after all these years, I still blog. I mean, it’s not really much of a thing anymore since so many have moved on to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and a multitude of other venues, but for me it remains a comfortable and familiar vehicle to express myself. I will freely admit that since Obama came to office, I’ve had much less political opinion to express, and Voenix Rising has become little more than a place where I bitch about work, repost funny pictures I’ve found online, and share lots of images of handsome men in various stages of undress. But every now and then I get the bug to actually sit down and write.
As I lay in bed in the dark this morning, after waking up at my usual ungodly time, I reached over and slipped on my headphones and started listening to Röyksopp’s The Inevitable End, an album Ben had been listening to the night before but one that I hadn’t heard from beginning to end.
Almost immediately—and don’t ask me why because I have no explanation—memories came unbidden of a long-departed friend…
Ben Howard Walzer, 1958-1987
It was early summer, 1986. After a rather tumultuous 18 months together, my second partner and I decided to go our separate ways. It was a friendly parting, and nearly 30 years later he remains one of my dearest friends. Even then we knew we couldn’t shut each other out of our lives completely, and since I loved the complex we lived in, when the time came for me to move out, I simply got my own place a few doors away in an adjacent building.
Shortly after I got settled, a very handsome stranger moved in across the courtyard and immediately caught my eye. I’d often see him out walking his two dogs, and we’d exchange pleasantries whenever we passed.
At this point I don’t remember the exact circumstances that led up to it, but one afternoon he showed up at my front door after a run, drenched and smelling of fresh sweat—probably following up on a general invitation I’d thrown his way to stop by sometime (no doubt hoping to get into his pants, but never expecting that anything would ever come of it).
He came in and sat down and we chatted for a few minutes. He asked to use the bathroom. Still not completely sure of which team he played on, I panicked as I had a framed sketch of a naked man in an obvious state of arousal hanging over the toilet.
When he came out a few minutes later I asked if he wanted something to drink. While I don’t remember his exact words now, as he stood there grabbing his crotch through his nylon running shorts, it was something along the lines of, “No thanks, but I would like to fuck.”
We were both 28—young, horny, and obviously attracted to each other. We wasted no time getting to it.
Though that initial hot, sweaty afternoon of monkey sex was never repeated, we became good friends. Like myself, he’d recently split up with his partner and had moved into a place of his own. We had much more than our recent separations in common, so it was an emotion-filled goodbye only a few short months later when my ex and I decided to follow through on the plans we’d made when we were still coupled and move to San Francisco.
Shortly after we left Tucson, Ben and his ex reconciled and moved back in together. Naturally we stayed in touch, and when the group of us who’d moved to San Francisco returned to Tucson the following Christmas, I made a point of seeing him.
They’d bought a townhouse and had completely remodeled it. To this day I remember how beautifully it had turned out—and how happy he was.
Several months passed and the calls and letters abruptly stopped. I didn’t think much of this (as I had become horrible at keeping in touch as well, what with a new city to explore and all), but then in August I received a call at work from his partner. Ben had passed away from AIDS complications a week earlier.
I was devastated. Another friend of mine who lived in San Francisco—whom I’d known since my days at the University of Arizona ten years earlier—had also passed only a week before, and I was still reeling from that.
I don’t have a single photo of Ben, and to be honest I have only the vaguest recollection of what he looked like. Tall, dark and fuzzy is how I remember him; a NJB I would’ve loved to have brought home to mother. Shortly after he passed I asked his partner if he’d send me a photo, but I never received one. Years later I followed up with his family with a similar request and also never got a response.
The only tangible record I have of that sweet man was the photo above that I took of his memorial quilt when it was on display in San Francisco a year or so later.
Last weekend Ben and I flew down to Phoenix for our very belated wedding reception. Since we got married under the friends/family radar a year ago, we both thought some sort of celebration is due—not only for ourselves, but also for those same friends and family.
Since the vast majority of the people we wanted to share in our special day lived in Arizona, we decided that Macayo’s in Phoenix would be our venue. Since we haven’t had really good Mexican food since we moved to Denver, this was a no-brainer.
Obviously, we went for a Doctor Who theme, but only the die-hard fans got the fez…
I think everyone had a good time…
We had to run a few errands the next day before we left…
And of course we had to visit one of our old (and hopefully future, in 2-3 years) stomping grounds…
Then we met a few of our friends at Lolo’s Chicken & Waffles for brunch before heading to the airport. Absolute heaven…
…and silently thank the gods that I have Ben in my life.
Five years ago the absolute last thing I expected in my life was a relationship—even though just prior to meeting Ben I had told the universe (or whoever/whatever was listening) that after a lifetime of less-than-successful attempts at coupling and a dozen or so years of being very, very single, I was ready to love again. I had run that line through my head many times before, but this time it was different; this time I felt it in the very fiber of my being. Even with that being said, in my wildest fantasies, I could not have even imagined the awesomeness that was about to enter my life—much less that I would be legally married five years later.
Sure, this past year has been difficult on us for a variety of reasons, but it’s never strained our bond and through it all we’ve always been there for each other. As I lay there this morning watching Ben sleep, I was once again struck at how—and I hate to use the word because of its religious connotations, but nothing else springs to mind to describe it—blessed I am that we’re together.
As Ben and I prepare to celebrate our Fifth Anniversary this weekend, we have made a momentous decision. In light of the Feds revising the tax law to allow same sex couples who wed in states where SSM is legal to claim married filing status even if they now reside in states that do not recognize their marriage…we have decided to tie the knot.
We’re not making a big deal out of it—at least not right now. We’re just driving down to Santa Fe next week (ironically to attend the wedding of one of Ben’s cousins) and will be standing before a Justice of the Peace on Friday.
We both know that certificate won’t mean a thing upon crossing back into Colorado, but we’re both confident that it will only be a matter of time until full equality comes to the state. In the meantime we may register as domestic partners here.
We’ll be having some sort of probably-doctor-who-themed ceremony sometime next year in Phoenix so all our friends can attend.
My current employment situation sucks, but sometimes it takes a phone call to a longtime friend to get me out of my own head long enough to actually put it all in perspective. After speaking at length with my dear friend Cindy the other night, I realized that the emotionally toxic work environment I currently find myself in is merely a bump in the road—that I need to remember that I have had these bumps before, and that “this too shall pass.” I need to remember the incredible sense of liberation that I will feel when I finally find something else and break free of this place. I also need to remember that I have worked for some truly outstanding people during my career and that I will find that magic again.
“I am open and receptive to the abundance of the universe.”
The one company that immediately comes to mind in that magic category was the small architectural firm that I worked for in San Francisco for nearly a decade—until in what can only be described as a fit of utter madness I decided to throw my entire life into complete chaos and move back to Arizona the first time.
(Of course, if I had not done that, it would not have led me on the path to Ben, and as I’ve said that many times before, I wouldn’t change that for the world.)
My interview at H&M (no, not that H&M) was the result of having sent out a hundred blind resumes seeking work as an architectural drafter (my profession before getting suckered into giving it up for full time PC support).
The funny thing is, when I first arrived for my interview, I almost turned around and left before even going in. The office was in a decrepit building on the southeast corner of Mission and 2nd, above a perpetually going-out-of business men’s clothing retailer. The first thing that greeted me when I got off the elevator was a locked metal gate preventing further access. But for once in my life I actually listened to that little voice in my head that told me if I turned around and left I would be making a horrible mistake.
I rang the buzzer and was greeted by one of the two principals.
As expected, it was a small, rather dingy office, about 20 feet wide by 40 feet long. Along one side were four drafting tables perpendicular to the wall. On the opposite wall was a row of bookcases holding product catalogs. Between them was a folding conference table.
Despite my initial misgivings, I had an excellent interview. It was one of only three such interviews I’ve had in my life that even during the interview itself I knew was kismet. And at the end of the interview, Jack and Nick looked at each other and said, “We like you. Would you like to come to work for us?”
And so began my 8 year journey and the birth of my second family.
Shortly after I started work, the fourth member of the firm returned from an extended absence. Neill was a couple years younger than I, but we had so much in common in the way of music, film, and our overall design aesthetic we immediately hit it off. (I remember one afternoon we were off to measure some building and he said something about cock suckers. I looked at him and said, “Excuse me, but I’m a cock sucker!” He looked at me, and smiling, said, “Some of my best friends are cock suckers!” Neill wasn’t gay, but having grown up in the bay area, was certainly unfazed by my announcement, and thus began our friendship.)
Jack was the company’s sales division. Nick was the main designer and ran the office, handling the day-to-day coordination with clients. Neill and I were production, although as the years went by each of our respective roles branched out significantly.
A couple months after I started, I arrived at work one morning to discover an IBM computer sitting on the conference table. I remember asking, “What’s this for?” and was told, “We’re not exactly sure. We hope you can do something with it.”
And so began my obsession.
I’d never touched a PC in my life (other than a brief stint playing with a Commodore VIC-20 years earlier), but I took to it like a fish to water. As the months progressed I began learning everything I could about this new piece of technology. Little did I know where this would ultimately lead me, or how it would result in a life-long friendship with Jack’s wife, Lei.
I got a copy of WordPerfect from my ex, who was working for a law firm at the time, and—having attended a sales presentation for AutoCAD at my last job in Tucson and knew that this was the way the architectural profession was headed—”acquired” a copy of that as well. I remember AutoCAD being the most difficult thing I had ever set out to learn. At one point I was literally moving things in my dreams by applying cartesian coordinates.
While they kicked and screamed the entire way, I dragged the firm legally into CAD, and as time passed we bought several new PCs and created a network. Then, after realizing the money being wasted by having all our CAD drawings printed offsite, the firm invested in a plotter.
Nick was one of those amazing employers who basically gave me free reign to do whatever was needed to grow professionally as well as personally while I was there. Only once did I take advantage of his generosity, and it’s something I regret to this day.
The office moved after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake (not surprisingly, the building was condemned) to nicer digs at Fremont and Folsom where it remained until the late 90s.
Like any family, the one at H&M had its difficult moments. Both the owners were fond of spending an afternoon at the local pub, and when Nick and Jack fought, it was like parents going at it. But also like a family, in difficult times, we hung together. When business turned down in the early 90s, instead of laying anyone off, we all voluntarily went to a 32 hour work week until things rebounded. And when things were good, they were very good. One day after the weather had warmed up after a particularly wet and nasty winter, Nick turned to us and said, “Take the rest of the day off. Go to the beach.”
For the Christmas holiday, Jack and Nick never failed to go above and beyond. Of course, there were the year-end bonuses and profit-sharing, but in addition there would always be something else. One year it was a trip on the ferry to Sausalito and an expensive lunch followed by an afternoon of playing tourist…
Another year it was fishing on the Bay for the day (worst weather ever, and after catching and killing the fish—a sturgeon—Neill took up permanent vegetarianism, but it was the thought that counted)…
Yet another year they rented a house at Sea Ranch for a weekend and we all brought our families/significant others…
While working for H&M, I remember days where I was irritated, or frustrated or pissed off at something Nick or Jack or Neill did (Neill got pretty pissy too at times), but never do I remember waking up in the morning and thinking, “I just can’t deal with the bullshit today,” like I often do now.
This was also the only place I have ever worked where I was regularly invited to break bread at the owners’ homes with their families as well as having them in my home to do the same.
And as a testament to the fact that we were more than just employers and employees, Nick openly wept as I said my final goodbyes at my farewell lunch.
While I have since lost contact with Nick and Neill, I still regularly call and write Jack’s wife, who often referred to me as her second son and with whom I still share a deep and abiding love for all things tech.
While I know certain people are going to laugh and call me a wimp when they read this, but after having gone through two winters in Colorado, I now know why many more people move to Arizona instead of from there in spite of the batshit crazy political climate.
Last year the final snow of the season occurred in February and we had a delightful spring. “That wasn’t so bad,” I thought. It corresponded in an inverse way to roughly the same length of time you can be expected to run your air conditioning in Arizona. This year, however, it seems the fucking white shit just won’t go away. “Oh, we usually get our craziest weather in March through May.”
Really? May? Seriously?
So essentially what I’m being told is that if we’re lucky, we’ll get four months this year when it doesn’t snow at some point.
My sister is tired of hearing me complain about it. “Well, you did move to Colorado.”
My dad was big into astrology (an understatement if there ever was one), and before Ben and I moved he printed out and gave me an astrological “relocation report.”
I never read it, preferring instead to discover life in Denver without any preconceived notions, but at this point I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it read, “You’ll hate it.”
“Only once in your life, I truly believe, you find someone who can completely turn your world around. You tell them things that you’ve never shared with another soul and they absorb everything you say and actually want to hear more.
You share hopes for the future, dreams that will never come true, goals that were never achieved and the many disappointments life has thrown at you. When something wonderful happens, you can’t wait to tell them about it, knowing they will share in your excitement. They are not embarrassed to cry with you when you are hurting or laugh with you when you make a fool of yourself.
Never do they hurt your feelings or make you feel like you are not good enough, but rather they build you up and show you the things about yourself that make you special and even beautiful. There is never any pressure, jealousy or competition but only a quiet calmness when they are around.
You can be yourself and not worry about what they will think of you because they love you for who you are. The things that seem insignificant to most people such as a note, song or walk become invaluable treasures kept safe in your heart to cherish forever.
Memories of your childhood come back and are so clear and vivid it’s like being young again. Colours seem brighter and more brilliant. Laughter seems part of daily life where before it was infrequent or didn’t exist at all.
A phone call or two during the day helps to get you through a long day’s work and always brings a smile to your face. In their presence, there’s no need for continuous conversation, but you find you’re quite content in just having them nearby.
Things that never interested you before become fascinating because you know they are important to this person who is so special to you. You think of this person on every occasion and in everything you do. Simple things bring them to mind like a pale blue sky, gentle wind or even a storm cloud on the horizon.
You open your heart knowing that there’s a chance it may be broken one day and in opening your heart, you experience a love and joy that you never dreamed possible. You find that being vulnerable is the only way to allow your heart to feel true pleasure that’s so real it scares you.
You find strength in knowing you have a true friend and possibly a soul mate who will remain loyal to the end. Life seems completely different, exciting and worthwhile. Your only hope and security is in knowing that they are a part of your life.”
A few days ago I read this heart-wrenching article about the long-term unemployed who are homeless and living out of their cars in Santa Barbara.
One quote from a woman whose family had just recently gotten resettled into an apartment especially resonated with me: “For the first month after getting the place,” she said, “I didn’t want to go anywhere. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I just wanted to be in this house.”
While Ben and I were never homeless per se, after leaving Phoenix, the affect of being unemployed and living three months in that hotel room had much the same effect on me, and is something I never want to go through again. For months after getting back into an apartment I wanted nothing more than to simply come home from work and be there. Even now most days I crave the security of our apartment over going out and doing much of anything after work.
That’s why any talk—even hypothetical—of us moving to a different place now leaves me very unsettled.
Ben will be graduating and receiving his Masters Degree in Education next month. This will be the first time since I’ve known him that he will not be in school. This is a huge change for him, and I think he’s feeling a bit lost as he begins his chosen career. The other day he told me that he now wants to get his Doctorate, and added, “We’ll have to decide where we want to live.”
Where we want to live? Excuse me?
When I was Ben’s age, I wouldn’t think twice about packing up and moving once a year. But now that I’m older, having stability—especially after the radical changes this past year have brought—is extremely important to me. The last thing I want to do is cross state lines again—especially since I’ve finally adjusted to living in Denver.
“Don’t worry, it won’t be for another six years.”
I pointed out the obvious fact that I’m no longer in my 30s and can’t just walk into another job like I used to be able to. In six years I will be at an age that even with my impeccable skill set and piles of kudos from previous employers, finding work in my chosen profession might be prove difficult. While my current job is far from ideal, it’s still a job, relatively secure (or at least as secure as any job in this economy), providing a steady income with benefits paid. There are millions of Americans out there still desperately searching for what I have, and I’m not exactly sure I’m willing to give that up—especially as I get older—just so Ben—as much as I love him—can become a professional student.